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Recap #223: Batman: The Drowned #1 by Jude Deluca

6
Jun 2019
Batman The Drowned #1 Cover by Jason Fabok

Batman The Drowned #1 Cover by Jason Fabok

Title: Batman The Drowned #1 – “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a.k.a. “Holy Zombie Steampunk Pirate Lady Aquaman-Batman, Batman!”

Writer: Dan Abnett

Pencillers and Inkers: Phillip Tan and Tyler Kirkham

Colorists: Dean White & Arif Prianto

Letterer: Tom Napolitano

Cover Artists: Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson

Associate Editor: Jessica Chen

Editor: Phil Kaminski

Group Editor: Eddie Berganza (FUCK YOU!)

Summary: As the events of DARK NIGHTS: METAL rock the DC Universe, the creatures of the Dark Multiverse stand ready to invade our world! How can even the World’s Greatest Heroes stop a horde of deadly beings that appear to be powerful, nightmare versions of familiar figures?

Initial Thoughts

To coincide with the three Graveyard School books for June, July, and August, I wanted to do recaps featuring similar themes. Since June’s will be “The Gator Ate Her,” that meant I wanted to do recaps on water-based horror tales.

Batman The Drowned - Bryce Wayne, the Batwoman of Earth -11

Batman The Drowned – Bryce Wayne, the Batwoman of Earth -11 (As in NEGATIVE 11)

So what, exactly, are all of you looking at and why is there a lady pirate version of Batman is what most of you are probably wondering. Well…

In 2011, Scott Snyder was promoted to write the main “Batman” title for DC, and had the honor of authoring the new #1 as part of DC’s New 52 relaunch. Alongside penciller Greg Capullo, Snyder dominated “Batman” and got to keep writing it all the way to #52 just before DC relaunched the title again for DC Rebirth. The duo quickly became one of the most popular creative teams DC’s employed and their run on “Batman” was a critical and financial success.

Personally, I never understood WHY. I dropped “Batman” in 2010 along with all the titles I bought from DC because of my disgust at “Justice League: Rise of Arsenal.” I didn’t resume supporting “Batman” when I slowly began to buy DC books again, and I still haven’t. And let me tell you, I want nothing to do with the MORON who’s writing the book at the time of this article.

Oh sure, I can READ the issues since I work in a comic book store, but little of what Snyder and Capullo have done has impressed me. The bulk of their initial run sort of rehashed what Grant Morrison previously did on the title, coupled with an origin story that ran forever and a vain attempt to cash in on the popularity garnered from “Batgirl of Burnside.” Their “Death of the Family” story especially felt very overrated.

I realize how this is sounding and I guess there were a few things they did I was interested in. Snyder’s story with Sean Murphy in “Detective Comics” #27 was interesting, and I liked new Batman villain Mr. Bloom. And I do like the Ultraviolet Lantern concept Snyder brought into “Justice League.” I can’t completely hate a person who tried to give Julie Madison more of a role.

Even though Snyder and Capullo were no longer on “Batman” it didn’t mean they were done with the character. Snyder retooled an idea for a Hawkman story and transformed it into DC’s 2017 event title “Dark Nights Metal.” Spinning off threads established in his “Batman” run, “Metal” was about…

Okay I’ll level with you, I still can’t tell what “Metal” was about or what the point was. It felt like Snyder wanted to do batshit gonzo storytelling for the sake of batshit gonzo storytelling with a poorly paced ending that dragged as it promoted several of DC’s new storylines that ultimately sucked ass. Dan Didio used “Metal” to launch his “Age of Heroes” line which consisted of nearly a dozen comics that were blatant rip-offs of Marvel characters. It proved as much a failure as his “One Year Later” imprint and most of the titles didn’t make it to a tenth issue.

As much as I can still figure, the conflict of “Metal” involved the Dark Multiverse. It was a realm comprised of dark matter energy that served as a sort of evil counterpart to the DC Multiverse. Every Earth was a negative opposite to the Earths in the DCU. Earth -22, Earth -44, Earth -12, etc. You’d think I would be on board for this because I love Multiverse stories, until it became clear this was another excuse to shill out a bunch of different Batman designs like they were brand new characters.

Dark Knights

Dark Knights of the Dark Multiverse – LtR The Drowned, The Devastator, The Murder Machine, The Batman Who Laughs, The Merciless, The Red Death, The Dawnbreaker

I’m still pissed about how ridiculous everyone was about what comic “The Batman Who Laughs” first debuted in.

Anyway, in the Dark Multiverse, every dream, every nightmare, every idea is given its own world. Your worst fears and your greatest hopes given form and flesh in an unstable dimension doomed to suffer so the positive matter worlds can live. Out of the Dark Multiverse came a team of warped versions of Batman, combined with a different member of the Justice League, and led by a horrifying combination of Batman and the Joker.

Why? Because Bruce Wayne is such a paranoid, self-obsessed egomaniac with his compulsion to think out EVERY scenario and obsess over EVERY detail meant he was capable of creating hundreds if not THOUSANDS of worlds within the Dark Multiverse. The Dark Knights were the worst of the worst, the personifications of Batman’s worst tendencies and his hidden fears. Led by the Batman Who Laughs, they want to make the positive matter DCU their own world.

Out of all the Dark Knights and this entire crossover, the Drowned was the only character to capture my interest. She serves as their combination of Batman and Aquaman and is the sole woman on the team. The Drowned’s design stands out to me primarily because her’s was neither lazy nor trying too hard. She has just enough to clearly demonstrate she’s both Batman AND Aquaman without being a rip-off. The steampunk pirate motif helps her case.

Meanwhile, the Red Death and Dawnbreaker are lazy combos of Batman with Flash and Green Lantern with the Bat symbols slapped on them. While Devastator and Merciless are clearly Doomsday and Ares with a slight Batman motif. But I mean, in some cases that’s not really a bad thing. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t fond of the assorted colored Lantern costumes. I’m especially engrossed of the Black Lantern costumes my friend Joe Prado designed. I feel these are overrated because DC tried SO FUCKING HARD to make them seem “Oh wow, a Batman combined with Flash that’s amazing! Evil Super-Batman! Isn’t this so extreme and outside the box?”

I don’t know what’s going on with the Murder Machine, and the Batman Who Laughs…

Jesus, he looks like Clive Barker was held hostage in a Hot Topic and forced to make a Batman costume with whatever he could use.

I’m disappointed because apparently Snyder had other ideas for Batman combos that got scrapped, including a version who had merged with Gotham City to become a genius loci who legit does sound amazing.

I’ve always felt more drawn to female characters in events like this. Another aspect of my interest in the Drowned plays into my seemingly subconscious ability to predict when certain minor characters will receive more of the spotlight. But I’ve wasted enough time.

Recap

A figure rises from the depths of the waters surrounding the coastal town of Amnesty Bay. As she makes her way towards the light at the surface, she doesn’t try to hide her contempt for the light and all its empty promises. Her world sinks below her and she remembers how, once upon a time, she clung to the hope her lover Sylvester had gone into the light. She knows now that, wherever he is, her love is NOT in a better place and she couldn’t keep her world adrift.

It’s better to just let it all drown.

As she breaks the surface, a smile forms across the rotted, waterlogged lips on Bryce Wayne’s face. Because she’s going to drown EVERYTHING.

Batman The Drowned - Bryce Drowns Amnesty Bay

Batman The Drowned – Bryce Drowns Amnesty Bay

Bryce opens her mouth and establishes a connection with her sunken world, spewing forth a wave of toxic water that becomes a flood to wash over Amnesty Bay. She thinks about the word “Amnesty” and what it means, thinking this is her second chance. Her do over, after she fought so hard to protect a world that could never be saved to begin with. No, her world, her people, and Bryce herself were born to suffer so those who live in the light could be happy. Such as the fate of the people born in the lower-tier worlds.

Batman The Drowned - Bryce In Amnesty Bay

Batman The Drowned – Bryce In Amnesty Bay

Amnesty Bay is completely submerged thanks to the power Bryce has over the water. She sees this as an act of piracy and retribution. The “Have nots” stealing back from the “Haves.” She walks through the flooded streets, assessing what she’s claimed for herself and not surprised at all when she meets resistance.

Batman The Drowned - Aquaman and Mera Meet The Drowned

Batman The Drowned – Aquaman and Mera Meet The Drowned

Aquaman and his wife and partner Mera have arrived to save Amnesty Bay from this creature before them. Riding on the backs of sharks, the King and Queen of Atlantis charge Bryce demanding to know why she’s done this. Bryce isn’t phased and recognizes Aquaman right away. Or rather, she realizes he’s a counterpart to someone she knows. It dawns on her that in this world, gender roles are different. But Bryce is faster than Aquaman, and Mera learns too late her hydrokinesis doesn’t work within the waters Bryce has complete control over.

And it’s not like she hasn’t killed Atlanteans before…

Like years ago, back in her homeworld of Earth -11. The Atlanteans showed themselves about 18 months after Bryce killed the last of the rogue metahumans responsible for the death of Sylvester Kyle.

Batman The Drowned - Aquawoman Appears

Batman The Drowned – Aquawoman Appears

(On a side note can we stop and appreciate how fucking hilarious it is that the male version of Catwoman is named SYLVESTER Kyle. That’s brilliant.)

[Wing: Where’s Tweety Bird? Because surely there’s a Tweety Bird.]

Bryce thought she had everything under control, and then these… people, showed up, led by their queen Aquawoman. They’d spent centuries hiding under the seas in self-imposed exile. Led by Aquawoman, the people of Atlantis said they came in peace.

Bryce didn’t believe them. She didn’t trust them. She doesn’t trust anyone except her gut instinct, and her instinct told her the Atlanteans were dangerous. When the peace talks turned violent, Bryce believed her instinct was correct and launched an attack on Aquawoman’s forces. They fought viciously, as Bryce expected, but she soon made Aquawoman understand what “Vicious” truly is.

Batman The Drowned - Batwoman Kills Aquawoman

Batman The Drowned – Batwoman Kills Aquawoman

[Wing: I ship them. Enemies to lovers can be a great trope. You know, when one of them isn’t dead.]

Bryce expected the Atlantean forces would back down with their queen dead, but she was wrong. In revenge, Gotham City was drowned, but Bryce wrote it off as a necessary sacrifice in a time of war. This coming from a woman who claimed the only other thing she could trust was “Her ability to protect the innocent.”

Batman The Drowned - Bryce's Experiments

Batman The Drowned – Bryce’s Experiments

Bryce was more than happy to further adapt to deal with her foes, going farther than she ever had before. She performed self-experimentation to augment her body into breathing water, but she didn’t stop there. Bryce used mutated Atlantean DNA to grant her quicker healing abilities and the power to control water, along with a few other surprises. She engineered an entire army of creatures called the Dead Water to fight for her. All that mattered was winning, and the prize was a drowned world under her protection.

The surviving populace had to be mutated to live in this new society, but she won so Bryce didn’t care. With the world under her control, she cast her signal to light the dark and let everyone know she’s watching. She thought it was a symbol of hope, until one night the signal stopped working and Bryce met HIM. Waiting for her was a figure in black leather and spikes, smiling a rictus grin. The One Who Laughs.

This stranger aptly called Bryce out on her paranoia, how her inability to trust others destroyed her world. Yet, there was something in his voice. Something soothing. Something familiar…

Batman The Drowned - Bryce Is Shown The Dark Multiverse

Batman The Drowned – Bryce Is Shown The Dark Multiverse

The stranger quickly assured Bryce she wasn’t at fault. Not really. The true reason her world was doomed is because it was never meant to be saved. That’s when Bryce was shown the others like her. She learned the truth of her reality, living in a minus world submerged in the darkness. Bryce, Sylvester, all of them born to suffer so the light worlds can shine. And even worse, she’s just a living nightmare, a warped echo of a man who got to enjoy the happiness Bryce has been denied her whole life. She never had a chance.

[Wing: Goddamn.]

Now does that sound fair?

The stranger, the One Who Laughs, told her about the Multiverse where things can be made right. That’s the only place where Bryce can find real happiness. He told her to stop being a victim and for once, be the one who does the drowning. [Wing: I mean … she’s been pretty hard into the killing so far, my dude.]

Meanwhile, Aquaman and Mera are still trying to figure out who and what Bryce is when she reveals her trump card. Because she created her world’s Dead Water, Bryce can summon them from the Dark Multiverse. Aquaman and Mera have had experience with their world’s version of the Dead Water, but they quickly ambush Aquaman. He screams at Mera to get away and warn the Justice League, but Bryce isn’t having that. She grabs Mera by the throat and forces Aquaman to watch as, slowly, Bryce’s influence overwhelms Mera and corrupts HER into a Dead Water. She did the same thing to her enemies in Earth -11, drowning her opposition to fight on her side.

Aquaman’s enraged and horrified by what’s been done to Mera, and that makes Bryce both happy and jealous. She recognizes his suffering similar to what she went through when she lost Sylvester. Honestly, Bryce wishes she’d died alongside Sylvester to make the pain stop, but it looks like Aquaman won’t die today. A glowing symbol appears before them, shielding Aquaman from his corrupted lover and summoning him to safety. Bryce’s one comfort is that he’ll keep living with that pain until she finds him and finishes the job.

In the meantime, Bryce sets up her signal to light the drowned Amnesty Bay. She swears she’ll drown this entire world.

Trust her.

[Wing: I love her, and I want more.]

Final Thoughts

Yikes.

The story was continued in the main “Metal” series, but rest assured Bryce was stopped and Mera was turned back to normal.

I mentioned in the Initial Thoughts that each of the Dark Knights represent Batman’s fears and anxieties. Well, Bryce Wayne appears to represent the following:

  • Bruce’s paranoia, via Bryce’s immediate belief the Atlanteans were up to no good just because of her gut instinct
  • Bruce’s extremism and inability to compromise, via Bryce killing the metahumans of her world and mutilating her body to get the job done
  • Bruce’s inability to own up to his failures, via Bryce’s hypocritical notions of protecting the innocent when her xenophobia led to Gotham’s destruction and she wrote it off as a “Necessary sacrifice”
  • Bruce’s self serving tendency to believe he is always right, via Bryce conveniently not showing us how, exactly Sylvester Kyle died or what exactly led to the peace talks with Atlantis failing.
  • Bruce’s hypocrisy, since Bryce claims she doesn’t trust anyone yet immediately believes a stranger who showed up one day and told her what she had to do to be happy
  • Bruce’s love for Selina Kyle, given Bryce’s lover is clearly a male version of Catwoman

Bryce wants to believe she’s the hero of her own story when really, her selfishness and incapability of trusting anyone unleashed literal waves of misfortune and unhappiness until her world was destroyed.

But can she really be blamed if her existence was born for the sake of someone else flourishing? And one has to wonder how much Bryce MUST convince herself everything she’s done was all worth it, otherwise she’d have to admit she’s the one who destroyed her own life. Losing Sylvester just gave her an excuse to take it out on someone else.

Despite that Bryce is a combo of Batman and Aquaman, Aquaman surprisingly has little role to play in this story except to be used as a demonstration of Bryce’s power when she outclasses him and Mera. Part of me has to wonder if maybe the “Metal” one shots focusing on the Dark Knights might’ve worked better as miniseries to properly flesh out their pasts and encounters with the present day DCU.

I really wish Bryce had been the one to gain more focus after “Metal” ended instead of the stupid Joker knock-off and his sidekick who just happens to be a Batman-Punisher combo (Do not ask).

In terms of the artwork, despite Phillip Tan giving Bryce visible cleavage, he manages to make her appropriately grotesque looking which is a nice change of pace instead of a typical sexy villainess. And if anyone DOES find that ragged, rotted face of her’s sexy, well then you got problems don’t you? I prefer Tan’s version of Bryce’s design compared to Capullo’s and Fabok’s, though his heavy shading makes it difficult to make out some aspects of her apparel. This has always been a slight problem with Phillip Tan’s artwork. His design work for the Orange Lantern Corps were ingenious and horrifying… but he shades too heavily.

Orange Lantern With Tusks Design by Phillip Tan

Orange Lantern With Tusks Design by Phillip Tan

Orange Lantern Warp Wrap Design by Phillip Tan

Orange Lantern Warp Wrap Design by Phillip Tan

Orange Lantern Beast Woman Design by Phillip Tan

Orange Lantern Beast Woman Design by Phillip Tan

See what I mean?

The shift between Tyler Kirkham and Phillip Tan when showing Bryce’s past was pretty cool. Kirkham does the pages before her total transformation into the Drowned, and Tan does the pages afterwards. Though I don’t know why she needed high heels in her Batwoman costume.

On that note, I’m wondering the only female Batman needed romantic love as one of her motivations.

But before I forget.

I mentioned in the Initial Thoughts my somehow subconscious ability to predict when a minor character will become more prominent. Well, in regards to this issue…

One of the earliest established elements of the current DC Multiverse was Earth-11, a place home to Superwoman, Batwoman, and Wonder Man. It was the focus of a one-shot issue during the “Search For Ray Palmer” miniseries. You noticed Bryce Wayne’s homeworld was Earth -11, which made it the negative counterpart to Earth-11.

Countdown Presents: Superwoman/Batwoman #1

Countdown Presents: Superwoman/Batwoman #1

The “Superwoman/Batwoman” issue featured a version of Aquawoman named Anna.

Aquawoman of Earth-11

Aquawoman of Earth-11

In 2009, I met writer/artist Jimmy Palmiotti at Wizard World Philadelphia. Since he wrote “Superwoman/Batwoman,” I asked if he could do a quick headsketch of Aquawoman because she had my favorite design of the characters in this issue.

Aquawoman by Jimmy Palmiotti

Aquawoman by Jimmy Palmiotti

Now imagine my surprise years later when Grant Morrison released “The Multiversity” and one of the main heroes in the Justice League Incarnate team was none other than Aquawoman of Earth-11.

The Multiversity - Aquawoman of Earth-11

The Multiversity – Aquawoman of Earth-11

She was also pretty popular because she was so badass. My friend Joe once did a number of sketches of her for NYCC one year.

And going further, when Earth-11 is given an evil counterpart in “Dark Nights Metal” the ONLY other character to appear besides the female version of Batman is Aquawoman. I know I’m probably making a big deal of nothing, yet I can’t help but wonder how out of all the characters I could’ve picked for a sketch all those years ago, I zeroed in on the one character who would become more prominent over the rest.

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